Editorial: “Numerical” Visions

We seem to feel the necessity to connect a number to a vision.  I remember one denomination had a vision for growth at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.  So, their slogan was “2000 in 2000.”

And that’s the point of this post:  when we put numbers and visions together, we end up with slogans.

There is not a single instance in the Bible where any vision was attached to a number.  The disciples’ faithfulness was in relation to the vision, not the “amount” of it.  The spirit of vision casting and its accomplishment is in relation to the validity of the vision, not the size of it.  I have never heard anyone reduce the size of a vision; we always increase it.  And with the increase comes the increase of stress and strain to achieve it.

I’ve spent my life in institutional Christianity, and I have watched “numbers” literally drive the machinery and create a freneticism among leaders and followers.  We seem to think that if we “miss the numbers” we’ve been unfaithful to the vision.  What makes us think like that?

I have styled myself as a “visionary leader” for a long time, but I am now praying for forgiveness for the times I validated the vision only by adding a number to it.  I am praying for forgiveness for the times I have not invested myself as fully in “small” things” as I have in “large” things.”  I am praying for forgiveness when I have, by word or example, given the impression that the larger a vision is, the more “of God” it is.  I am asking God to enable me to find joy and fulfillment in “insignificant” matters, not just “monumental” ones.

“Run the numbers” on Jesus, and a different picture emerges—the picture of One who did the will of God without knowing—or having to know—what the “results” would be.  In fact, “one lost sheep” touched the heart of the Shepherd—it still should.  As Brother Lawrence said, “We can do little things for God.”

Consider what “pruning” means in relation to vision.  Is it not possible that there are times when, in order to move forward, we must first go backward.  But when do you ever hear someone say, “I’m working to make my church smaller.”  In my own denomination we don’t even want to remove anyone from the rolls, even some dead people!

Thankfully, there are a few folks in the Vineyard today who understand that visions may produce increase or decrease—and they don’t care which it is, so long as the result is one of obedience.  Thankfully, there are a few voices who are testifying to the fact that their church had to “die” (go down) before it could “live” (rise up).

This is not a plea for increase or decrease—it is a plea for doing what we do solely on the basis of our belief that it is what God wants us to do.  Sowers sow—-and leave the “results” to God.  It’s time to leave “numerical” visions behind, and let God be God.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Editorial: “Numerical” Visions

  1. Hey Dr. Harper… your wife sent my your link! I resonate so deeply with this post as we were sent to a “dying” congregation last June in hopes of revitalizing it. Thus far, we’ve yet to see much visible fruit. It’s been a frustrating road to walk but one we are committed to. One of my favorite writers, Alica Chole, in one of her books makes mention of some invaluable leadership advice she once received.

    “Focus on what is near not far; small not big.”

    Near and small. Seems to echo with the pulse of what you’re saying here.

    Jesus was all about the “one.” In doing so, he ministered to the “all.”

    Look forward to checking in here from time to time. I always need a good dose of sound theology from a tender heart!


  2. Jim Bradshaw says:

    “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). Yes, obedience is what matters!

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